On energy drinks, a voice of caution -- and reason
I don't know if you've noticed, but the world of nutrition writing and advocacy can get awfully shrill sometimes. I generally try to keep shrillness in check, but it's easy to get caught up in hysteria when talking about soda taxes, high fructose corn syrup, sodium in packaged foods and the like.
So it's awfully refreshing to read a well-reasoned, calm analysis of the risks posed by one of the current dietary bugaboos, the energy drink. In a commentary published online Jan. 25 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Amelia M. Arria, and Mary Claire O'Brien write convincingly about the need for the public and health professionals alike to understand the potential harms associated with those beverages, which are particularly popular among the vulnerable community of adolescent males.
The authors make the case that energy drinks, which are often consumed along with alcoholic beverages, can spur over-consumption and amplify the dangers of getting drunk. They also might contribute to alcohol dependency.
Further, because they contain so much caffeine, energy drinks can be problematic for certain populations. Pregnant women who drink too much caffeine can risk miscarriage, stillbirth and giving birth to too-small babies. Teenagers over-consuming caffeine can suffer high blood pressure and sleep disturbances.
Exacerbating the potential health risks is the fact that the FDA hasn't set a limit on the amount of caffeine energy drinks can contain, even as the agency maintains standards for how much caffeine a cola beverage can have.
I wrote about my son's affinity for energy drinks in my "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column last year. I concluded that an occasional Monster wasn't likely to do him much harm and hoped he'd eventually outgrow his desire for such beverages. He's only 14 and not yet of prime energy-drink consumption age, but I can happily tell you that the last can or two we bought him have been languishing in the fridge for weeks.
The thing I most appreciate about this JAMA editorial is its clear-headed presentation of information without an accompanying demand for government regulation. Its stance seems to be that the public (and the health professionals who advise the public) needs to be aware of the potential risks of energy drinks -- not that people shouldn't be allowed to enjoy energy drinks if they so choose. And there is, thankfully, no mention of an energy-drink tax.
If everyone were to write as lucidly about such matters, maybe the overall shrillness would come down a notch or two. And then maybe we could hear each other a bit better.
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| February 10, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Alcohol and Drugs, FDA, Family Health, Kids' health, Parenting, Pregnancy, Teens
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